In an era where sensationalism reigns supreme, the mainstream NFL media landscape has devolved into a circus of outrageous headlines, ridiculous on-air statements, and distorted perspectives. As fans, we’re left to wonder whether the focus is on the game or generating clickbait-worthy controversies.
For the Indianapolis Colts, the Jonathan Taylor saga is a prime example of this practice. On ESPN this weekend, Irsay was openly blasted by media personalities who called him out as a bad example of how to live - as a human being - and criticized him as not caring for his players.
JIM IRSAY’S CONTRIBUTIONS OUTSIDE OF FOOTBALL
While there is no question that Irsay has made very public mistakes, it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge his extensive philanthropic contributions. Kicking the Stigma focuses on mental health in a profession begging for support in this area, where playing through pain and the gladiator mentality can permanently impact players. He has supported Riley’s Children’s Hospital, donated millions to IU Health to establish a research institute studying mental health issues and the stigma around it, and raised millions to IU cancer research centers as he actively supports former head coach Chuck Pagano’s efforts to fight leukemia. Recently, Irsay attempted to spend millions to save an orca from the Miami Seaquarium.
Irsay is an eccentric man who has battled addiction, but any broad-stroke comments that he is a bad example as a human being is ridiculous.
JIM IRSAY’S SUPPORT FOR CURRENT AND FORMER PLAYERS
After Andrew Luck’s surprising retirement, Irsay paid his salary. Following the Colts’ Super Bowl victory, Irsay purchased a Super Bowl ring for Edgerrin James despite him leaving as a free agent the preceding year. As noted previously, he continues to be an avid supporter of former head coach Chuck Pagano and his efforts to raise awareness for and fight leukemia. Former player Jeff Saturday was recently hired as interim head coach of the Colts, a move that was heavily criticized for entirely valid reasons and made because of Irsay’s trust in Saturday and as a gesture of support for a former player.
The man has consistently been an avid supporter of coaches and players, and these are just a few examples.
AGENTS PROVIDE THE BAIT; MEDIA EAT IT UP
NFL agents are pivotal in contract negotiations. However, some agents resort to outrageous tactics to garner attention and apply pressure on owners and general managers.
Jonathan Taylor’s agent has made it personal from the start. Every comment Jim Irsay has shared on an issue impacting running back contracts has been turned directly back to his client. The narrative is that Irsay is refusing to pay his best offensive player or that Irsay is mistreating his client because he won’t pay him the money he earned two years ago. The realities of the situation are much less sexy.
By the way, EVERY member of the mainstream NFL media KNOWS the realities of the situation aren’t as exciting as they’re making it out to be.
THE REAL STORY
Devaluing of Running Backs in Modern NFL
Modern NFL offenses have, in many cases, moved away from the traditional running game. Instead, they’re focusing on high-flying, pass-heavy strategies. Moving the ball through the air is more efficient, thanks to rule changes that favor the passing game (think pass interference and quarterback protection rules). A running back can change pace and keep defenses honest, but are they as central as they once were? Perhaps not.
Let’s not forget about the ultimate goal: Winning the Super Bowl. When we look at recent Super Bowl winners, a pattern emerges. While having a solid running game is a bonus, it isn’t necessarily a requirement. The balance of power has shifted to other positions.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the running back position is irrelevant. But from a strategic and financial standpoint, teams are becoming increasingly hesitant to invest heavily in the position.
Rookie Wage Scale and Collective Bargaining Agreement
We have already gone into detail on how the NFL Players’ Association shoulders some blame on the state of running back contracts. Read the story here.
Recent Performance and Injuries
It’s common for player contract extensions to be delayed due to low statistical production or past injuries. This has been conveniently understated in media narratives, which often fail to acknowledge players' challenges in recovering and regaining their peak form. Taylor suffered multiple ankle injuries in 2022, which led to off-season surgery. He missed games, and his production was significantly lower (for many reasons).
There is nothing abnormal, no indication of bad faith, in asking the player to return from the injury before seriously discussing an extension.
This isn’t a complex math problem. The former players, coaches, and other NFL personalities all know how the business side of the NFL works. They’re just playing dumb to get attention.
Poor Negotiation Tactics
Taylor has been visibly petulant at practices when he has shown up. Players have shared that he has not been a locker room problem and participates in team meeting rooms (when he is there), but the optics are awful.
Taylor’s agent has been combative with Irsay and made the entire negotiation public. If attention was the goal, the tactic has worked. The result is a wedge between Taylor and his current team owner, general manager, and fan base.
Imagine how much less likely it has become that the Colts would offer a long-term extension under the circumstances. A player has announced he wants a trade, has gone out of his way to express no interest in returning, refuses to allow the team to monitor or help manage his recovery from off-season surgery, and has gone out of his way to pout on the sidelines at training camp - taking away from the team.
If the Colts buckled, what message does that send?
It’s evident that this isn’t about Jonathan Taylor getting mistreated by an owner who doesn’t care about his players. It’s about a player and his agent ignoring EVERYTHING about why it makes little sense for his team to negotiate an extension under the circumstances.
If one side in a negotiation is being reasonable and the other is being openly ridiculous, it shouldn’t be hard to get the story right.